Too Much of a Good Thing: How Novelty Biases and Vocabulary Influence Known and Novel Referent Selection in 18‐Month‐Old Children and Associative Learning Models

Cognitive Science 42 (S2):463-493 (2018)
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Identifying the referent of novel words is a complex process that young children do with relative ease. When given multiple objects along with a novel word, children select the most novel item, sometimes retaining the word‐referent link. Prior work is inconsistent, however, on the role of object novelty. Two experiments examine 18‐month‐old children's performance on referent selection and retention with novel and known words. The results reveal a pervasive novelty bias on referent selection with both known and novel names and, across individual children, a negative correlation between attention to novelty and retention of new word‐referent links. A computational model examines possible sources of the bias, suggesting novelty supports in‐the‐moment behavior but not retention. Together, results suggest that when lexical knowledge is weak, attention to novelty drives behavior, but alone does not sustain learning. Importantly, the results demonstrate that word learning may be driven, in part, by low‐level perceptual processes.



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